Resolving Professional Differences Protocol


If there is an inter-agency professional disagreements when working with children and families, the process set out below should be followeds. It aims to ensure that throughout the process professionals remain focused on the outcomes for children, young people and their families.

Key Principle

A professional/agency disagreement can detract from ensuring a child is safeguarded. The child's welfare and safety must remain paramount throughout.


In August 2020, this protocol was updated. The amendments to the process described below will support Doncaster Safeguarding Children Partnership to monitor professional disagreements and the use of this protocol. It is important that the DSCP Business Unit is kept informed throughout the "Resolving Professional Differences" process.

1. Introduction

Doncaster Safeguarding Children Partnership (DSCP) believes that, on the whole, professionals working locally tend to agree about the most appropriate intervention when working with children, young people and their families. However, there will be instances when professionals disagree about the best course of action to take in order to safeguard children and young people. This protocol has been designed and developed to assist in resolving professional disagreements in relation to safeguarding children and young people.

The aim of this protocol is to identify the processes to follow to resolve disagreements while ensuring that working relationships remain positive. Disagreements should be managed in a constructive and positive manner. Our aim is to ensure that at the heart of all our processes, we remain focused on the best outcomes for children, young people and their families.

The protocol makes the following assumptions:

  • That all agencies have a process in place to ensure that staff are supported and have the information, confidence and supervisory support to escalate and resolve interagency concerns and disagreements about a child or young person; and
  • That this disagreement and escalation protocol is not designed to replace the statutory complaints processes which exist within individual partner agencies.

2. Context

Safeguarding children and young people is a complex process and there are often many organisations and professionals involved in supporting children, young people and their families. When working to safeguard children and young people in Doncaster, there are a range of areas and issues that professionals may disagree upon.

For example:

  • Doncaster Children's Services Trust does not take forward a referral made by a school because they are of the view that the referral does not meet the threshold criteria;
  • The Police may disagree on whether a referral made to them meets the criteria of Child Sexual Exploitation;
  • An agency may find that another agency has not responded to them within the timescales set out in the Doncaster Safeguarding Children Partnership procedures;
  • Professionals may have a difference of opinion about a number of areas of intervention with a child or young person. For example, the need for a child to remain in school although they pose a challenge to the school; or
  • There may be a disagreement about which agency or professional should lead. (This can be at step down or step up to/from Children's Social Care intervention).

At the core of all children's safeguarding activity, is the principle that the child's interests are of paramount importance. Therefore, in a constructive and respectful manner when there is a disagreement or a member of one agency believes that other agencies are failing to recognise child maltreatment and/or their response leaves children at risk of significant harm the professionals concerned have a responsibility to challenge poor practice. This protocol provides partner agencies with a clear, transparent process to resolve professional differences.

All good partnerships, including safeguarding partnership working requires disagreements to be resolved to the satisfaction of workers and agencies in order to maintain good, on-going working relationships. This needs to be underpinned by strong values and a belief in partnership and joint working to safeguard children and young people. Robust and simple resolution processes provide the opportunity for disagreements between agencies and professional disagreements to be resolved in a constructive and timely fashion.

The use of this protocol is monitored by DSCP as part of the Learning and Improvement Framework.

3. Resolving and Escalating Disagreements

The first step towards resolving disagreements is for workers to have 'absolute clarity' about the nature of the disagreement and what each worker would like to see happen.

3.1 Informal Stage – Professional Discussion

When a professional disagrees with a decision made in a meeting which determines the level of need for a child, roles and responsibilities, or the need for action and communication, the professional should, in the first instance, appropriately share their views in the meeting. If further discussions do not result in resolution the professional should request that the difference of opinion is formally minuted.

If this difference in professional opinion arises as a result of direct communication, informal attempts should be made between the workers to resolve the difference of professional opinion.

3.2 Stage 1 - Formal Dispute

If the above attempts do not result in resolution at the earliest opportunity, the disagreement should be raised in writing (using the template at Appendix 2: Form for Submitting Cases for Escalation and Resolution) following advice being taken, where applicable, from the safeguarding lead in the agency raising the complaint. The complainant agency should provide clear evidence based reasons for their disagreement.

A copy of the completed form should then be shared with the relevant worker in the agency that the disagreement is being lodged with and a copy sent to the DSCP Business Unit. This should happen on the same working day of the form being completed.

The relevant professional in the receiving agency should acknowledge receipt of the disagreement, read and review any relevant case records and speak to complainant in an attempt to find a mutually agreeable way forward. The aim should be to resolve the complaint within 5 working days of receipt. This could be in the form of a discussion or meeting which focuses on factual and professional matters; discussions must be child centred and focus on the best interests of the child or young person.

When a resolution is reached the responsible worker will advise the complainant agency of the outcome in writing (i.e. email) within 2 working days of the discussion or meeting.

The complainant agency should also notify the DSCP Business Unit of the outcome.

If the issue is not resolved within the 5 working days from receipt of the complaint, the dispute should be escalated to Stage 2 by the agency with the concern. The DSCP Business Unit should be informed of this decision in writing to assist with tracking and monitoring the professional difference.

3.3 Stage 2 – Escalate to Line Manager

If the receiving agency practitioner and the complainant practitioner are unable to resolve the disagreement within 5 working days, they should notify the DSCP Business Unit and each practitioner should raise their concerns with their respective line/team manager or named lead for safeguarding, who should attempt to resolve the differences at line / team manager level within 5 working days of the matter being escalated to Stage 2.

If agreement is reached, the receiving agency will write to the complainant agency confirming the outcome within 2 working days of the discussion or meeting, and advise what action will be taken as a result of the agreement that has been reached. The originator of the complaint and the recipient of the complaint should be informed of this decision making as well as any other involved agencies/parties

DSCP Business Unit should be notified of the outcome.

3.4 Stage 3 – Escalate to Senior Managers

If agreement cannot be reached following discussions between the line / team managers within the 5 working days, then the issue must be escalated to Stage 3 without delay to the relevant service/senior manager in each agency and the DSCP Business Unit should be notified of this.

The receiving service/senior managers will contact the complainant agency's service/senior manager. The service/senior manager should attempt to resolve the differences at this level within 5 working days of receipt of the Stage 3 complaint. The receiving agency should acknowledge receipt of this.

If resolution is reached, the complainant agency will be notified of the outcome in writing within 2 working days of the agreement.

DSCP Business Unit should be notified of the outcome.

3.5 Stage 4 - Escalate to DSCP Partners

If professional disagreements remain unresolved within 5 working days following discussions between respective senior managers, the complaint should be escalated by DSCP Business Unit to Stage 4 immediately.

3.5 Stage 4 – Escalate to Doncaster Safeguarding Children Partnership Manager

The DSCP Independent Convenor must be notified by the DSCP Business Unit Manager, verbally and followed up in writing.

The DSCP Independent Convenor may offer advice including:

  • Whether the matter should be escalated to the statutory partners as COSOP;
  • Whether an independent investigation should be conducted or commissioned by the DSCP Business Unit;
  • Whether the case, or aspects of it, ought to be considered by the Case Review Group.
Based on any advice provided and the individual circumstances of the matter, the DSCP Manager will make a decision on the most appropriate way to proceed; the decision and the rationale for this will be communicated to all involved within 5 working days of the issue being brought to their attention.

4. Following the Use of the Escalation Protocol

At the point when final resolution has been reached, all relevant parties will be notified in writing. Lessons learned arising from the dispute will be shared formally with the Independent Convenor of the Partnership, the Partnership Board and with COSOP.